One of the latest developments in the Montana Congressional special election is the news that Democratic candidate Rob Quist had previously consumed marijuana during the course of his life. Certain media outlets in the state have attempted to make a lot of hay out of this issue, hoping to shift a hotly contested election. I think Quist’s opponents may be surprised by the reaction this “revelation” will evoke from most Montana residents, and Americans across the spectrum. That reaction can largely be summed up as:
First, I’d like to clarify that NORML finds it an affront to personal privacy that these outlets are leaking the medical history of an individual without their consent. That in and of itself is unacceptable. However, there is no grand controversy in a story about an American smoking marijuana. Recent surveys have shown approximately half of all Americans have tried using marijuana at least once during their lives and 60% of Americans believe the adult use of marijuana should be legalized and regulated. Eight states have already legalized the possession and retail sale of marijuana with more expect to join them over the next few years. Thirty states have approved state medical marijuana laws, including Montana.
With legalization now policy in these states, all of the rhetoric and bluster from the “reefer madness” era has been proven false. All reliable science has demonstrated that marijuana is not a gateway to harder drug use, as youth use rates have either slightly declined or stayed the same after the implementation of legalization; highway traffic fatalities did not spike; and millions of dollars in tax revenue are now going to the state to support important social programs instead of into the pockets of illicit drug cartels.
Marijuana prohibition is a failed policy. It disproportionately impacts people of color and other marginalized communities, fills our courts and jails with nonviolent offenders, engenders disrespect for the law and law enforcement, and diverts limited resources that can be better spent combating violent crime. Rob Quist’s past marijuana use doesn’t make him a pariah, it makes him an average American. Members of the press, particularly the Washington Free Beacon, should not be in the business of criminalizing or stigmatizing responsible adults who chose to consume a product that is objectively safer than currently legal ones such as tobacco and alcohol.
Calling for an end to the disastrous policy that is our nation’s prohibition on marijuana and replacing it with the fiscally and socially responsible policy of legalization and regulation isn’t something that should or will scare voters away. Pursuing these sensible proposals is both good policy and good politics. I think that Quist’s opponents will soon realize the attempts to use one’s past marijuana consumption and support for legalization against them not only puts them out of step with the majority of Montana residents, but puts them firmly on the wrong side of history as well.